BOLIVAR – What started as policy changes at two obscure Mennonite colleges has grown into a nationwide controversy leaving Bible-believing institutions like Southwest Baptist University (SBU) and Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU) caught in the middle.
Goshen College, an Indiana school affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA, announced in July it would expand hiring and benefits practices to include employees in same-sex marriages. Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, also connected to the Mennonite Church USA, announced a similar policy in July, as well.
Both are members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, an organization that advocates for Christian schools. It counts 183 North American member institutions, affiliate members, theological affiliates and international affiliates, including SBU and HLGU.
Union University in Tennesee touched off the firestorm when it announced earlier this month its withdrawal from the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities because of what a Union news release called the council’s “failure to respond appropriately to two member institutions that have endorsed same-sex marriage.”
In comments to Baptist Press, the CCCU said it is “saddened by Union’s decision” and underscored its practice of “advocating vigorously on behalf of schools that hold the orthodox view of marriage.”
In the meantime, CCCU is in the process of contacting each member school for guidance in dealing with the two Mennonite schools. Anthony Allen, president of HLGU, and Pat Taylor, president of SBU, are still awaiting their phone calls.
“There’s no doubt where SBU or HLGU stand when it comes to marriage,” Taylor said.
SBU’s faculty and staff affirm the school’s Principles and Expectations every year, which says in part that “Scripture teaches that heterosexual union is the only acceptable expression of sexuality and must be reserved for marriage and insists on sexual abstinence for those who are unmarried.”
HLGU’s defintion of marriage is also restricted as “one man, one woman in a committed heterosexual relationship” in its faith statement, faculty and staff handbooks.
Both schools affirm the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000.
“The CCCU board is going to poll every president,” said Taylor, who rotated off the CCCU board last year. “It’s a process and it takes time to call everybody. We’re waiting to hear what the board reccomends, and we’ll go from there.”
“CCCU is a wonderful organization that has done a lot of good things for all of us,” he said. “They lobby on our behalf, and they are an evangelical Christian voice. I don’t want to leave CCCU if we don’t have to. If Eastern Mennonite and Goshen remain members, I’m not sure we can. In no way do we condone or feel good about what these two member schools have done.”
Once the polling is complete, CCCU’s options include revoking Goshen’s and Eastern Mennonite’s membership, or possibly downgrading Goshen and Eastern Mennonite to “affiliate status,” which would keep them in the organization but limit their voting privileges.
Taylor noted that there are very few criteria to belong to CCCU, but they are “very strong criteria.”
“You have to have a Christ-centered mission,” he said. “We have to sign off on that every year that all our faculty are born again believers. We have a wide variety of denominations, but it all comes back to the centrality of Christ.”
CCCU membership requirements do not reference homosexuality specifically, but do require member institutions to be “rooted in the historic Christian faith.”
Shirley Hoogstra, president of CCCU, said in a statement that “following a good and respectful process does not mean that we do not recognize the importance of this issue [same-sex marriage] in our current cultural climate. We do and as such CCCU is advocating vigorously on behalf of schools that hold the orthodox view of marriage, and we will continue to do so both for our members and for others who hold that view but are no longer members.”
CCCU spokesperson Shapri LoMaglio told Baptist Press any suggestion that the CCCU is “tepid” in its approach to public policy is “incorrect.”
The CCCU supports and will advocate for the First Amendment Defense Act, legislation that would bar the federal government from changing the tax status of gropus that hold a traditional view of marriage, LoMaglio said. The council also “filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of two of our members, East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University, in their petition for appeal of a fifth circuit decision in their lawsuit against the HHS contraception and abortifacient mandate.” In the past month, the CCCU has attended more than 20 meetings on Capitol Hill “regarding the impact of the Supreme Court’s [same-sex marriage] decision on our schools,” she said in written comments.